WHO suggests mothers delay pregnancy due to Zika epidemic

The controversial advise applies to people in 60 countries, it comes as health bodies and experts struggle to find ways to effectively combat the disease.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

The advisory affects millions of couples around the world, with no anti-Zika vaccine is in sight.

Updated Jun 11, 2016

Unable to come up with a vaccine to counter the Zika virus, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has now asked people in roughly 60 countries to consider postponing their plans of having a baby.

The widely trusted health body did not say for how long pregnancies should be delayed, but the fact that experts have so far stuggled to find ways to effectively battle the Zika virus means they may have to wait a while.

The advice also comes after similar advisories issued by at least five countries, most of them from South America, the region worst affected by the mosquito-borne disease.

Although Zika is primarily spread by mosquitoes, it can also be spread through sexual intercourse.

In women who are pregnant Zika exposes the fetus to the risk of microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with small heads and underdeveloped brains.

Concerns over a rise in babies being born with microcephaly led the WHO to declare Zika a global health emergency earlier this year. 

Images of teary-eyed mothers holding their babies, who may not be able to lead normal lives, have caused concern around the world.

Globally, around 2 billion people live in areas where Zika may spread, according to a study conducted by multiple universities from around the world and published in the eLife Sciences Journal.

Over 5.4 million births occurred in 2015 in such areas. 

The study says, "This recent rapid spread has led to concern that the virus is following a similar pattern of global expansion to that of dengue and chikungunya."

But on social media many read the WHO's guidelines as an infringement of their rights, especially since they were seen as being specifically directed at women. 

For its part, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has so far not advised women to avoid pregnancy during the Zika outbreak unless they are infected with the virus.

The CDC instead advises them to discuss the risks of Zika with their doctors, and it suggests those women who do not want to become pregnant use the most effective means of contraception.

The virus has been reported in 60 countries and territories so far, with 46 of them suffering outbreaks only in the past year according to the WHO. 

Sexual transmission of the Zika virus has so far been reported in ten countries including the US, France, Italy, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Portugal, New Zealand, Canada and Germany. 

The first case of sexual transmission took place in 2008 when a man returning from Senegal infected his wife in the US. 

The Zika virus has spread fast since mid 2015, pushing the WHO to designate the epidemic as an emergency.

The WHO has also asked sexual partners of pregnant women to exercise caution. 

It said if they are living or returning from areas where transmission of the virus is known to occur then they should either use contraceptives or avoid having sex altogether until the baby is born.

Couples who are returning from affected areas and are planning to have a baby should wait eight weeks before trying to conceive, the advisory adds. 

Men who have shown symptoms of the virus should be particularly careful and wait six months before trying to impregnate their wives.

TRTWorld, Reuters